Review: The Impossible Mountain By David Soman

I sheepishly admit I haven’t quite figured out this book yet; but I am incredibly drawn to it. It is achingly beautiful, incredibly empowering, and highly intriguing. Check out the epic journey in The Impossible Mountain by David Soman, 2021.

The story is about a young girl named Anna and her little brother Finn who are growing up in a village surrounded by a high wall. They have been told repeatedly by villagers that the wall keeps them safe, but they always wonder what’s on the other side.

The left page shows purple haired Anna in braids on top of a roof holding on to a pole and looking off wistfully. Her little brother is climbing up the roof behind her and looking nervous. The right page is deep browns and shows Anna and Finn's backs huddled together cowering below a woman seated in a chair telling them a scary story. She is illuminated by a lantern on the floor at her feet and her shadow makes a large bear shape on the wall behind her.

They do their best to explore the world inside the wall, but they find it small. So one day, they climb the wall and get a view of the village they’ve never seen before.

Anna and Finn kneel down beside the big wall and lift a rock to reveal a snail. On the right page, Anna is at the top of a ladder perched on a roof against the wall. Finn is at the base of the ladder. In a picture below that, Anna and Finn are on top of the wall looking out over their village rooftops.

And when they turn around, they see the most epic of views – a gigantic mountain. The view stayed with them for days and Anna became determined that she and Finn had to climb that mountain – they had to see the world!

Full spread shows tiny Anna and Finn on top of the wall beholding a gigantic landscape of green leading to a huge mountain of tans and blues.

The villagers tried to talk them out of it, tried to scare them off the idea; but finally they prepared and set out. They traveled over interesting terrain, sometimes with a path, sometimes not.

The left page shows Anna helping Finn up a rocky bit near the base of a gigantic tree. Finn is holding a stick with a bundle attached to the end. The right page shows Anna balancing on a log with her arms extended and a backpack on her back. Finn is walking cautiously behind her with the stick and bundle and his signature gray knit hat with white pom.

They saw amazing things like falls and skipping stones, and they ran into wolves and even a mountain goat.

Anna and Finn can be seen at the top of the left page in a clearing through white trees. Below them on the full spread are eight wolves rushing towards them through the trees and rocks.

It was difficult and often confusing, but they continued on together. At the scariest moment, they even encountered the Great and Terrible Bear they had heard about. Their teamwork and determination kept them on course, pursuing the top of the mountain and a chance to see the world.

The left page shows Finn and Anna walking up a rocky path with a tree that seems to have branch arms and a face pointing the way up the path. A little red bird perches on the pointing branch. The right page shows Anna and Finn staring up with faces turned towards the reader. They are looking at something impossibly high and looking uncertain.

Like I said in the opening, I’m still figuring out this book. It reads like a simplified epic in some ways, like a classical hero on an important journey with many lessons. But the text is fairly light and it doesn’t spell out what exactly they are supposed to be learning or why exactly they are taking this on. It’s very intriguing. Scary things happen, but never too intense. Even the giant bear is quite surprising. I’m honestly not sure if I would like this book if it weren’t for the incredible illustrations, but that is also a fairly excellent picture book accomplishment too. I continue to return to it, experiencing the highs and lows with Anna and Finn and wondering at what they uncover and how it changes them.

Full spread inside a dark cave illuminated by a little fire. A giant brown bear surrounds the back edge of the spread and looks at the children. Anna is standing strongly in front holding out an apple to the bear while Finn hides behind her.

As noted, the illustrations are just stunning. Soman’s paintings are marvelous, but they also aren’t just paintings. They are full of story and very illustrative. I marvel at his use of color, and I am even curious about it – like the children’s purple hair! I love the lack of detail, but also the fullness of the painting details. So exquisitely done. They really are breathtaking paintings.

Left page shows Anna kneeling near her backpack looking up at a rocky wall surrounded by more rocky path. The red bird is behind her. Finn is climbing up over the ledge near her and looking as well. They look dismayed. The right page shows Anna and Finn small at the base of the page and the mountain with backs to the reader. The are facing the last bit of steep mountain which fades into grays and blues and white. They are holding hands and Finn has his right arm stretched out with the stick and bundle in the air.

I hope you’ll pick this one up and let me know what you think. I love that I close it with more questions than answers. Take a journey to the top of The Impossible Mountain and see where it leads you.

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